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Everyone Can Benefit From a Green Future – Unless You’re in Australia

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By Anthony Horton

According to the European Environment State and Outlook report 2015 (SOER) published by the European Environment Agency, green industries in Europe grew by 50% between 2000 and 2011. This growth was against the backdrop of a severe bust which hit every other sector of the economy with the exception of the aforementioned green industries. The report stated that environmental policies are creating numerous economic opportunities and contributing to the Europe 2020 strategy, the aim of which was to transform the European Union (EU) into a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy by 2020. The environment industry sector which provides goods and services which reduce degradation and maintain natural resources grew by more than 50% between 2000 and 2011, and was one of the few sectors to flourish since the economic crisis of 2008. The report also acknowledged that Europe faces a number of significant challenges in terms of the degradation of natural capital due to agriculture, fishing, transport, industrial development, tourism and urban sprawl.

Since the 1970’s, a wide range of environmental legislation has been implemented in the EU, which represents the most comprehensive modern suite of standards anywhere in the world. More than 500 directives, regulations and decisions comprise the EU environmental law. During this time, the emissions of a number of pollutants to air, water and soil have been dramatically reduced, due in no small part to the comprehensive legislation in place across the EU. This has brought with it direct and indirect environmental, economic and societal benefits. EU policies have also stimulated innovation and investments in environmental goods and services which have generated jobs and export opportunities. EU air policies and legislation have delivered human health and environmental benefits, and have also offered a range of economic opportunities for the clean technology sector. Estimates as part of the European Commission’s proposal for a Clean Air Policy Package show that large Engineering companies in the EU earn approximately 40% of their revenues from their environment portfolios- a percentage that is almost certain to increase.

The previous SOER in 2010 highlighted the need for a more integrated approach to addressing persistent systemic environmental challenges, one of which was the transition towards to a green economy in order to secure the long term sustainability of the EU. The analysis in the 2010 SOER suggested that neither environmental policies nor economic and technology driven efficiency gains alone would be sufficient to achieve the 2050 vision which was for a low carbon society, a green circular economy and resilient ecosystems as a basis for citizens’ well being.

Similar to the 2010 SOER, the 2015 SOER highlighted major challenges in terms of unsustainable production and consumption and their long term impacts (often complex and cumulative) on ecosystem and human health. Concerns also remained regarding the purchase-use-dispose nature of the economy, the significant dependence on natural resources, an ecological footprint that is clearly unsustainable, environmental impacts on poorer countries and the unequal distribution of the benefits of globalisation. The 2015 report also showed that transforming transport, energy, housing and food systems is central to long term fixes. Decarbonising these systems and making them more efficient and compatible with ecosystem resilience were also keys to making them more sustainable.

Prior to December 2015, the European Commission will present a new circular economy package which will investigate recycling goals, the smarter use of raw materials, intelligent product design and  product reuse and repair. The Commission has also found evidence that nature protection areas contribute approximately EU$200 billion to EU GDP under the EU Natura 2000 projects. In addition, Europeans enjoyed cleaner air and water and recycled more than they did five years ago.

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Meanwhile in Australia, the Clean Energy sector has been dealt another blow following news that reviews will remain as part of the deal struck between the Abbott Government and the Labor Opposition over the Renewable Energy Target (RET) of 33000 Gigawatt hours of clean energy by 2020. The Abbott Government initially agreed to scrap two yearly reviews and then changed their position at the eleventh hour. In a joint statement last month, the Environment and Industry Ministers announced that they would remove the two yearly review requirement in the RET in order to provide the industry some certainty and facilitate its move forward. Industry Minister Ian McFarlane stated that Cabinet insisted the reviews stay, and Labor reportedly did not oppose it in talks on Friday May 8, 2015, although Labor Environment Spokesperson Mark Butler stated they are unlikely to support continued reviews. The next review is scheduled for next year and there were two last year, one of which was the Warburton Review that recommended a significant reduction of the target.

See more information here

It is little wonder that the Renewable/Clean Energy sector is struggling to gain traction in Australia. In an earlier blog entitled “Who would invest in the Australian large scale renewable energy sector?” I discussed a number of associated issues so I won’t repeat them here. Suffice it to say, both the Government and Labor have an interesting way of showing their support for renewables in Australia. In particular, I can’t understand how they can’t seem to grasp the level of certainty investors and proponents require and the length of time it can take to get investors on board before projects can even start.

Anthony Horton blogs on his own site; http://www.theclimatechangeguy.com.au

 

6 comments

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  1. Anon E Mouse

    With the likes of Martin Fergeson in the Labor party govt, it is little wonder that Labor has lost its way on climate change.

    Bob Brown’s siding with the Libs to vote down Rudd’s ETS was a deep blow to any meaningful action. This was further crueled when Gillard binned the green car plan and carbon sequestration work as soon as she got in.

    Poor fella my country.

  2. Harquebus

    Too bad that so far, electrical generators powered by solar and wind do not return the total energy used to manufacture, construct and maintain them. (Energy invested) If they could and then some, our planet would already be covered in them and our energy problems solved. (Energy returned) The fact is, they can’t. They wear out or degrade long before and are a complete waste of our precious and limited fossil fuel energy.
    Things to consider when factoring energy invested include the transport of everything throughout the extensive supply chain, the smelting of ores and silicon, the manufacture of consumables, plant, machinery and vehicles, sustaining a workforce and the building and maintenance of associated infrastructure as well as all the electricity used in said supply chain etc.
    Population reduction was the only viable solution to avoid climate warming, pollution, ecosystem collapses and the continuing destruction of our environment. Now, nature will reduce our numbers for us and it won’t be pretty.

  3. Jexpat

    Anon:

    There’s no such thing as “carbon sequestration” -just as there’s no such thing as “clean coal.”

    Moreover, the carbon pricing system was far more effective (and evidence based) policy than the ETS system.

    Finally, no one in their right mind should invest here in Australia, given the overt hostility expressed toward the renewables sector. Far more sensible and profitable to put your money in nations where there are consistent, supportive environments for R & D and implementation.

  4. jimhaz

    [Too bad that so far, electrical generators powered by solar and wind do not return the total energy used to manufacture]

    Nahh, solar is getting to the point where conversion rates would overcome the energy used to produce them or the material needed is decreasing. I see solar panels as akin to computers – limited and really inefficient at first, but the more they became used the more efficiency accelerated.

    Wind is problematic.

    “The new photovoltaic (PV) system created by University of New South Wales (UNSW) researchers converts 40 percent of solar light into electrical energy, which is a 15 percent increase over regular panels.

    Laboratory tests have shown the solar cell method can convert up to 46 percent of the sun’s energy into electricity. The new Australian technique works with regular commercial PV panels under normal conditions, and could potentially make solar plants more competitive with other energy sources, such as fossil fuels”

  5. AndrewL

    When some of the readers here quote conversion rates, it feels like they are missing the point. At this point in time, it is not about being competitive with the perceived cost of coal. The whole point is that burning coal for power does not factor in the effect on the climate or environment in any way that can mitigate the effects. The idea is that if were to avoid irreconcilable damage to the environment, we should have already converted our base power sources away from fossil fuels at whatever cost when we had a chance when the economy was in great shape. But consecutive Australian governments have let us and the rest of the planet down. Now our future generations are already going to be paying for this stupidity and greediness of the few corporate CEOs and politicians that do their biddings at the expense of the rest of us. I feel bad for my children because they are the first generation that will suffer from these decisions and the climate havoc that we are already witnessing and living through.

  6. Harquebus

    “Although “renewable” energy is growing faster than ever before, it is neither carbon neutral, “clean” nor sustainable. We need to transform into low-energy societies that meet human – not corporate – needs.”
    http://www.generationalpha.org/renewables/

    When factoring energy invested, all energy must be included.
    “The PV cell manufacturing process includes a number of hazardous materials”
    http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-of.html

    Without plentiful fossil fuels, it is unlikely that wind and solar driven generators would ever be built. The law of diminishing energy returns.
    “we don’t realize that we are becoming increasingly inefficient at producing desired end products.”
    http://ourfiniteworld.com/2015/04/15/putting-the-real-story-of-energy-and-the-economy-together/

    There are no technological solutions and to gamble humanity’s fate on the off chance of us finding one is extremely foolish.

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